David Laws: what should happen next?

by Stephen Tall on May 29, 2010

Last night, Lib Dem Voice covered the Telegraph’s story that David Laws, the chief secretary to the treasury, has referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner because it is alleged his second home expenses claims breached the rules which state rent cannot be paid to an MP’s spouse.

The story is dominating today’s news agenda, presenting the coalition government with its first real test. There are, as I see it, three options:

1) Tough it out. David has referred himself to the Commissioner, maintaining that he has done nothing for personal gain, even if he has broken the rules. Many will have a lot of sympathy for a man who has been unwillingly forced out of the closet by the Telegraph, and whose over-riding aim was to keep his private life private. But this runs the real risk of the ‘new politics’ being seen to be tainted, and David’s reputation being permanently damaged.

2) Suspend David pending the Commissioner’s inquiry. In most work places, an employee alleged of wrong-doing will be suspended pending an investigation. There is no reason why this should drag on for months. The facts of the case are quite clear and not in dispute. If cleared David could come back into the role; if not, he would have to resign.

3) Resign instantly. David could choose the manner of his departure and would gain sympathy for behaving honourably and decisively to spare the government’s blushes. But it would be a heavy price to pay for an as yet unproven allegation – not only for David, but also for the government which desperately needs his skills.

Any one of these options would be understandable. Personally I hope David does not choose to resign. It is clear to me that neither he nor his partner sought to gain from their domestic arrangements. Indeed had they declared their relationship openly, they would have been entitled perfectly properly to claim much, much more in second home expenses than David did.

It strikes me as odd that people who were outraged by MPs using ‘the rules’ as a technical excuse for declaring themselves innocent are now so keen to use those same rules to judge an MP guilty on a technicality.

The only issue that matters here is this one: was the taxpayer defrauded, and did David set out to defraud the taxpayer? My reading of the case is that the answer to both questions is resolutely no. Which is why like many on Twitter today: #IsupportLaws.

Here’s what other Lib Dem bloggers have been saying: